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School of Social Sciences

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BSocSc Social Anthropology
Explore human behaviour and relationships and the challenges across different cultures.

BSocSc Social Anthropology / Course details

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Key Ideas in Social Anthropology

Unit code SOAN10320
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Full year
Offered by Anthropology
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Key Ideas in Social Anthropology is a two-semester module. It is an introduction to how contemporary anthropology is building on, and transforming early theoretical approaches to human culture and society discussed in the social sciences. Its overall aim is to explore ways in which concepts of culture and society have been theorised within anthropology and address how an anthropological commitment to ethnographic work shapes contemporary approaches to human culture and society. In semester one, students are introduced to the ways in which anthropology as a discipline has emerged and the broad approaches it has used to understand human culture and society and the way these have changed overtime. In semester two, students are introduced to the ethnographies that anthropologists write after they’ve conducted fieldwork. Semester two involves engaging with a framework to help make sense of the information covered in semester one, and to understand what anthropology is as a field of study, what kinds of questions anthropologists ask, and what kind of knowledge they produce. On completion of this module, successful students will have acquired skills including, but not limited to: a critical understanding of the changing meaning of ‘culture’ and ‘society’ in diverse theoretical approaches and empirical circumstances; how ethnographic research shapes anthropological approaches to human social and cultural life; and how distinctions are drawn between ethnographic and analytical claims in contemporary approaches to human culture and society.


The main aim of this course is to explore ways in which concepts of ''culture'' and ''society'' have been theorised within anthropology. We will consider particular theoretical positions, including functionalist, structuralist, Marxist, feminist and post-structuralist, in the context of specific ethnographic examples and of particular historical moments. This will give students a framework for understanding the different ways in which anthropologists have attempted to make sense of human social behaviour and cultural diversity, and how and why those understandings have changed over time, as the world itself changes.

Theories provide an analytical point-of-view and are used both to develop questions about culture and society and to analyse ethnographic data. In short, theories are supposed to help generate 'knowledge'. Within anthropology this presents a dilemma: in all societies there are diverse means of generating knowledge and different ways of theorising - how is anthropological theory different from the kinds of knowledge which form a part of what anthropologists study? What is it that makes one kind of knowledge seem more 'analytical' or more 'objective' than another kind? These questions lead us to consider how anthropology developed as an analytical discipline. Is it science? Is it art?

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will have a basic theoretical history of the discipline and be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of various theoretical approaches. Students will be able to identify a range of theoretical perspectives and know how they are related to the practice of anthropology and to the communities of practice from which they derive.

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures and Weekly Tutorials

Assessment methods

13% - tutorial tasks and practice essay - first semester

13% - tutorial tasks and practice essay - second semester

37% - 1.5 hour examination - first semester

37% - 1.5 hour examination - second semester

Feedback methods

As part of the tutorials, you will be required to submit  practice essays, on which you will receive feedback from the Teaching Assistant in charge of your tutorial group. The tutorials and the weekly written tasks are ways for you to assess how you are doing in the module on a continual basis through feedback. The essays are also a vital way of getting feedback on a more extended piece of writing. So it is important to do them, even though it forms a minor part of the formal assessment of the module.

Recommended reading

Erikson, T.H. (1995)
Small places, large issues: an introduction to social and cultural anthropology. London: Pluto Press

Hendry, J. (1999)
An introduction to social anthropology: other people's worlds London: MacMillan

Kuper, A. (1983)
Anthropology and anthropologists: the modern British School. London: Routledge

Peacock, J. (1986)
The anthropological lens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Lewis, I. (1985)
Social anthropology in perspective. Cambridge University Press 

Borowsky, R. (1994)
Assessing anthropology New York: McGraw Hill

Layton, R. (1997)
An introduction to theory in anthropology Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Ingold, T. (2000)
The perception of the environment: essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill. London: Routledge

Low, S M and D Lawrence-Zuniga (eds) 2003.  The Anthropology of Space and Place: Locating Culture.  Malden, MA; Oxford: Blackwell

Callon, H. B. Street and S. Underdown, eds., (2013)
Introductory Readings in Anthropology. Oxford: Berghahn.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 3
Lectures 20
Tutorials 18
Independent study hours
Independent study 159

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Rupert Cox Unit coordinator
Madeleine Reeves Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Length of course: 24 weeks

Tuesday 13.00-14.00 (both semesters)


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